Gilad Lotan: Exploring the Intersection Between Culture, Technology and Spatial Design

Gilad Lotan is the chief data scientist at Betaworks. To see what Gilad Lotan is up to go to his current website at: On his newest website he states: I love data, analysis and visualization. I think that is obvious from the archived content you will find below. When Logan created this site he was a programmer and designer at Microsoft Startup Labs. This site was used to present his many projects.

The first time I saw Gilad Lotan at the Bronfman Center Artist Fellow Exhibit was in April 2007. I was in New York City dealing with computer security issues for a client. My work as part of a team that does customized software development service for companies in industries such as finance and medicine that require higher-than-usual security and privacy concerns takes me all over the country. I particularly love being spent to NYC. The progressive software company I'm an employee for supports every aspect of the software and product development life cycle, starting from feasibility analysis, user experience design, and prototyping, to development of scalable solutions. Some businesses think custom software development is going to be the magic pill that solves all their operational issues. But that myth isn’t always realized. And in some cases custom software development is not necessary. We always do an analysis of the issues before advising a potential client if they could benefit from custom software development. It's challenging work that is particularly rewarding. One of the IT guys at the NYC company overheard me saying how much I enjoy art installations. He suggested I see Kotel. I was blown away with the way the installation was implemented using 3d technology and touch sensors, embedded within a real rock. The touch sensitive rock let viewers navigate through different niches created in 3D space, using real-time webcam feeds broadcasting live images from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It was awesome!

When I recently discovered that’s domain was available, I bought it with the goal of recreating as much of its original content as possible from archived pages. I have followed Gilad’s work for a number of years and I did not want someone else to purchase the domain and re-purpose the site for something that had nothing in common with his original website. Gilad Lotan has completed many impressive projects and I want this site to be a historical record of some of them. Please be indulgent since the site does not look exactly as the original.




Who Is Gilad Lotan

By leading an online life we attain a global sense of connection to distant people and remote locations. Ubiquitous technology helps us keep in touch with each other, and in many ways also with ourselves. Yet digital methods of representing a person or a place are a far cry from the corporeal experience - good when representing an efficient, asynchronous connection, but not as useful when supporting a more authentic, deeper conversation.

Can intimacy be felt over a distance? How do we use technology for more meaningful interactions? There exists a zone of balance, which I find fascinating. A place where the interaction is not burdensome and not too brief. Where it actually takes some thought and effort to reciprocate. By drawing the experience away from the screen and into tangible objects, it is possible to maintain stronger bonds to distant people or places through interaction with these objects. Every culture has its own distinct set of customs and rules for interaction, a constant challenge when designing for the global village.

Through my work I explore the intersection between culture, technology and spatial design, made possible through new media. What gets me excited is finding ways to create and use technology as a tool to strengthen connections between people and to places. I build objects and design spaces that take advantage of embedded technology as a way to augments their base line functionality. I am fascinated with the potential to enhance a space by adding to its architectural design a technology layer of sensors and networking. This allows for a space to incorporate smart behaviors which enable a more complex set of user interactions. I explore innovative methods of representing online diversity within physical objects; extracting the multitude of perspectives available online into real-world spaces. By merging the richness of online content with physical objects it is possible to design a substantially heightened user experience, resulting in stronger overall bonds.

My background is in both computer science and design and my professional identity centers around bridging these two worlds. I am a seasoned traveler, anxious to learn about and experience new ideals and cultures. While I dream of a network that connects us all, social and cultural barriers are reproduced online. People tend to stay in their familiar neighborhoods, even when consuming through the safety of their screens. My goal is to create work that takes down these existing walls, and presents its viewers with a new perception for a diversity of cultural perspectives.






This installation explores the use of technology in creating a strong connection to a remote physical location. The Western Wall ( הכותל המערבי ) in Jerusalem is one of the most sacred sites for Judaism. For over 2000 years, people have been coming to this wall in search of hope, thankfulness and belief. Current internet technology allows for the availability of a 24 hour real-time virtual connection to the wall, through a website. This installation aims to break the convention of the computer screen, creating an enhanced connection to the wall using touch. The installation is implemented using 3d technology and touch sensors, embedded within a real rock. The touch sensitive rock lets viewers navigate through different niches created in 3D space, using real-time webcam feeds broadcasting live images from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.


Bronfman Center Artist Fellow Exhibit, New York, April 2007
Young Investigator's Forum for Culture Technology, KAIST - Korea, October 2006
ITP hallway Gallery, New York University, fall 2006
ITP 2006 Spring Show

A grant for this project was given by the Bronfman Center, as part of the artist fellowship program, 2006-2007




Oriental Scene

A camera takes the image of the viewer in front of a screen and insert him/her into a layered oriental stylized image. An executable patch written in C takes the image from the camera and transforms it, creating a world of layers and images inspired by the Chinese artist Heyouzhi. The camera captures the viewer in a certain environment, where the background and the light is controlled.

presented: ITP 2005 Fall Show





Using a webcam and the openGL lwjgl java library, I created a display that extracts edges from the video image, manipulates the colors, and creates a 3D scene using that live footage. Currently the display is navigatable using the arrow keys on the keyboard. A future evolution of this diplay can involve sensors as inputs, manipulating the navigational aspects of the scene, preferable using IR sensors.

Created for Mark Napier's GLart class at the ITP 2005 Fall semester.




Photography Portfolio

My photographs from the past couple of years.

Photos are from between 27 Jan 2004 & 27 Jul 2007.






imPulse is a modular design object that senses pulse and allows users to wirelessly transmit their heartbeat rhythms to companion imPulse units. By synchronizing light and vibrations with users’ personal heartbeats, these devices create intimacy across distance.

Heartbeat is a very personal expression of an individual’s bodily presence. Thus, a device that amplifies a user’s pulse evokes a deep emotional response almost automatically. The imPulse project proposes a technological interface for augmenting intimate or meditative moments between people at a distance by allowing users to share their pulse with one another, simply by placing both hands on an imPulse object. 

Exploring the potential for people to share their internal body rhythms, the imPulse devices sense pulse through palm contact and wirelessly transmit heartbeats to companion imPulse units. The device is ergonomically designed to rest in users’ laps, and provides light flashes as well as vibration, presenting feedback about each user’s heart rate.


ITP Spring 2007 Show
CHI 2007, April 2007, San Jose
Sony Wonder Labs, July 2006, New York

project by: christian croft< & gilad lotan




Interactive Tree

Interactive Tree is a physical display in the shape of a tree, consisting of hanging white boxes, and multiple projections. Using custom made software, the tree changes colors according to the people viewing the display. The display is constructed of a pixelated 3D version of a tree, consisting of small cubes and plastic-etched leaves. The tree-like shape can only be seen when standing in a specific location, otherwise the display looks like a random array of hanging boxes. A software patch that takes visuals that specific location, anayzes and changes the projections colors accordingly. This enabes the viewer a higher level of interaction with the tree through her movements in a given location. A tree has strong significance in different cultures around the world. We relate to trees in many ways, usually when celebrating holidays, and we both think it is an object that every person in the world can somehow connect to. The Interactive Tree was created at the ITP entrance lobby at NYU, for the ITP fall '05 show. The tree consists of paper boxes and plastic leaves. The tree is carefully designed, consisting of 50 paper boxes in a 30x40x50 inch volume space, each suspended from the ceiling in a specific location. In addition, organic patterns with intricate pgeometric detail deriving from mape leaf structure were etched on of polycarbonate and hung on strings within the display.

presented: ITP 2005 Fall Show

project by: min weng & gilad lotan




World News Wheels

The wheels are made out of foamboard, mounted on a wooden spindle base. They are covered with engraved copper sheets. Photo depicting the world map and the well known Tibetan mantra - ohm mane padme ohm. Photo seensors acts a switching mechanism, placed under each wheel. When connected to a PIC chip, it is possible to analyze the wheel's position - if turning or not. The PIC communicates with a custom written processing patch, which controls the projected visuals and playing sounds.

In this project I strive to find a way to represent the immense variety of media and news sources that exist online by means of a physical objects. The chosen objects, the Tibetan prayer wheels, react to world events using images received through different web RSS feed. Each of the seven wheels controls the visuals of news images coming from different continents. The images are projected above the wheels in a horizontal strip, and updated as the wheels are turned. The different images fade in and out as the wheel turns faster or slows to a halt.

In creating this piece I was interested to explore the dissonance and harmony in the contrasts between different sources of online information. I was interested to explore the potential for a object which would highlight different perspectives when dealing with world events. Representing the immense variety of media and news that are placed online within a physical object is somewhat of an impossible task. When abstracted, it is much easier for viewers to react to the data. That is precisely why I chose to display only images, and not text. The shape and structure of the wheels complement the underlying concept - to highlight contrasts and different perspectives.

The following image is made up of pictures displayed in different news sources at the same time of day. When placed together they form somewhat of a narrative and present the viewer with diverse perspectives.

presented: ITP 2006 Fall Show in collaboration with: ariel efron

Prayer Wheels can be spotted all across the Tibetan plateau well into Mainland China, Nepal and India. They usually hold the mantra ohm mane padme ohm inscribed onto them, and it is believed that once turned, the prayer is initiated. They usually surround monasteries and other places of worship, and it is the duty of the townspeople to walk around the monasteries (clockwise), turning every prayer wheel on their way, releasing as many prayers as they can. This ritual is done twice a day: at sunrise and sunset. Reading or watching the news every morning and evening is analogous to this action, only with the current day state of the media, it is difficult to stay hopeful. This dissonance highlights the main essence on which the World News Wheels are constructed.

The wheels have their own "emotional" characteristic, reacting to user interaction according to the parsed RSS feeds of the initially chosen websites. Each of the seven wheels represents news coming from a different continent, therefore reacting to specifically assigned RSS feeds from multiple websites. When turned by users, projections of the latest images from feeds fade in above the wheels. As the wheels slows down to a halt, the image above it fades back out. Every time a wheel is spun, the following sound is heard.





Exploring ways in which technology can help create more meaningful connections between independent travelers and local entities in developing nations by facilitating exchange possibilities between the two.

Indigi-Net investigates ways in which technology can help eliminate the existing layers and bureaucracies separating between those who have, those who need and those who can actually deliver to developing nations. This is a service aimed at creating more meaningful connections between independent travelers and local entities in developing countries by facilitating service and skill exchanges between the two. Indigi-Net takes advantage of technology to help empower locals in developing nations and support these connections made when travelers visit the third world. The service supports a grassroots movement of socially aware travelers, resulting from a change in perspective. Every year millions of people strap on a backpack and go off to see and be part of the world. They visit small villages and remote locations. No one wants to be just a tourist, and many often wish they could do something that could both connect them in a more substantial way to local people and also be truly useful for the local communities. I see these explorers as a potential distribution system of needed resources and information - a perpetual and sturdy link between the remote and the urban, the developed and the third world. Each person has different skills and knowledge that can be used to the local community’s advantage. They are also usually “armed” with mobile phones and cameras, amongst other devices which enable both data storage and communications.

Indigi-Net focuses around three main possibilities for exchange: knowledge, skills and conversation. I believe that each traveler can use their different skills and strength to the benefit of the local communities they visit. This provides foreign visitors a way to truly give back instead of constantly taking from the hosting community. There are endless ways to contribute while traveling; if by having a conversation in English with a local student or even by simply painting a mural on a wall. I believe that a traveler can directly benefit local artisans by uploading photographs taken while traveling to the web and writing information to help promote their webpage, increasing their web presence. One can teach a local businessman how to use Microsoft Word to his advantage; how to format a formal letter to a potential partner, or how to label an invoice. If someone is interested, it is even possible to help paint the decaying walls of a preschool’s playground. The possibilities are endless, and every person can contribute somehow. It is possible to browse through the different needs and exchange possibilities on the Indigi-Net website. Information is fed directly from local entities or from travelers who roam those areas. As a result, instead of simply bringing candy and chocolates, it is possible to gather enough information from the site, providing users with more meaningful exchange opportunities while traveling.

Indigi-Net incorporates mobile phone technology along with online social networking. More than 80% of the world's population is covered by the GSM cellular networks , and more than 2 billion people own a mobile phone. Indigi-Net takes advantage of this increasing penetration of the cellular networks. By merging a mobile phone based service with the additional strength that social networking has in connecting between people with similar interests, it is possible to create a powerful tool which is accessible, inexpensive and simple to use. This results in a lower entry barrier, allowing for active participation even from those who do not have internet access, or are computer illiterate. Indigi-Net's underlying goal is to empower local communities by facilitating the ability to post and edit data regarding their initiatives online. By letting locals post their own initiatives, it is possible to take that one step further. In this case, technology is used as a tool to encourage connections to take place between locals and travelers and not as the main focus of the service.

When implementing IT related projects in rural locations around the world, throwing technology at the local communities in what is called the “parachuting approach”, is quite common. This method does not take into account social aspects and cultural differences in technological implementations. Implementation of technology is rather a social matter, not only a physical one. Some refer to a “parasite approach”, or parasiting (in contrast to parachuting), where the new technology almost acts like a parasite in the community. It makes an entry with a meager presence, growing and becoming more and more refined as time goes by. Physical implementation is just the first stage of the social implementation, which takes into account a two-way cycle of operation between the technology developers and the local communities.

Independent travelers are usually technology savvy and most of them own mobile phones. Many of them go back and forth between the more urban, central regions and the remote, rural areas. I see great potential in taking advantage of this already existing network of people who are “armed” with technology in addition to a variety of valuable knowledge. This existing gap, or so called feedback loop, in network terms, is an opportunity; an opportunity to enhance the traveling experience on the one hand by making it more engaging, educational and reaching out to the needs of local communities. While on the other hand, using people’s knowledge and familiarity with technology, as an access method to allow for a more meaningful way for information and services exchange; a physical gateway to some of the services we take for granted by having unlimited and access to the web.






Technology today has become more than disruptive to us users with pagers, cell phones, instant messaging, and different alerts on our computers. These “helpful means of technology” have slowly become more than intruding to the primary task at hand. This breaks our concentration and hence, interrupts our work-flow. When creating Ubi.ach, we attempted to bring that extra layer of information to the user, but by a means of peripheral, sensory awareness. In search of using calm technology, we have come up with a friendly-looking stuffed-doll that connects to the owner’s personal email account. Using text analysis algorithms, text-to-speech technology alongside with radio frequency communications and LED’s, we’ve built an alternative first interface for email connectivity.

Ubi.ach is a doll that connects to one’s personal email box and reads out messages according to the predetermined user preferences. Its’ user has the ability to preset the importance of different words or contacts, enabling Ubi.ach to react accordingly when a new email is received. The two main components of Ubi.ach are the doll module, and a transmitter module, serially connected to a networked laptop or computer. Once a transmitter is connected to the computer, the user needs to update his/her email and password, run our custom written code and set the different options to set the personalized doll’s reactions.

Ubi.ach reacts to new emails in various manners: from blinking LEDs, to small motor movements, to reading text from the email out loud. Therefore it is possible for anyone, anywhere in the world, to send personal recorded messages to the doll, which can be heard by the doll’s owner.

We have implemented Ubi.ach using Bluetooth as a method for both the data and voice channels between the doll and the web. After an initial hardware configuration, the doll is set to go. However, there must be a bluetooth enabled computer in the vicinity of the doll for it to work properly, connect and react to online content.

presented: ITP fall 2006 show

Ubicomp 2006, Orange County

project by: chunxi jiang, gu-min batstone, gilad lotan in collaboration with: taeki oh, chris haughton





SoCho - a social restaurant recommendation system for the mobile phone. A J2ME working prototype was built for the ITP community. The software could be used by anyone who had an S60 phone with a data plan. The idea was to store all the information that is usually exchanged between people in a community regarding food recommendations in an efficient way, allowing for easy access from a phone. It supports submissions of new comments and ratings for existing locations, in addition to adding new locations to the system.

We quickly realized the importance of personal recommendations, especially when it comes to food. There are thousands of online recommendation sites for the New York are, yet none dealt specifically with the needs of poor grad students, who only have little time to venture out of school and grab a byte to eat. Getting recommendations from fellow students was invaluable. By creating this system, the recommendations could extend and reach out to more people.

Illustration of the food recommendation network after the program ran for a couple of days at NYU. The white nodes are restaurants, while the colored ones are students. The link between them represents a positive comment.